The view from my couch

FX Coverage of the Chevy American Revolution 400
by Cheryl Lauer
May 16, 2005

First off, I really hate to be so negative regarding race broadcasts. I really do, as I know the broadcast team is trying to do the best they can within the constraints the network give them. Unfortunately, I've noticed every year when the broadcasts shift to the Fox cable partner, FX, that the viewers at home get short-shifted in the coverage department. This week seemed to foretell what we will be getting for race coverage for three out of the next four races. Commercial breaks always seem to increase when the broadcasts shift to cable for some reason. It almost seems like getting back in time to catch restarts has become a thing of the past and that's really sad.

I've been told that one reason the viewers have been inundated with commercials since Fox and NBC took over is because when the majority of the races were on ESPN (a cable channel), that network could offset their costs by cable and satellite fees paid. I guess I just don't understand why that theory never seems to apply when Fox shifts their races to FX or NBC to TNT. Instead, we seem to get even more commercials than on the over the air channels. Much of this week's race was relegated to replays of action we missed while FX was away at commercials. As a viewer, I find this increasingly insulting. Especially when frequently FX was back from an actual commercial, but was showing us a silly feature like "Fan of the Week" which was really just another plug for the series' sponsor.

As the season progresses, what little race coverage we get is interrupted more and more often by on-screen commercials or race recaps (which are just another commercial for a credit card). This week on FX, we also frequently got graphics on the screen advertising next week's race, even one covering up a quarter of the screen during the Victory Lane interview with the winner. Throughout the weekend, the poor pit reporters had to constantly advertise the FX reality show every single time they talked to winner, Kasey Kahne, even during his winner's circle interview.


I had the pre-race show on this week, but really can't remember anything about it. I think I've finally become successful in just tuning it out. Obviously it was made up of the usual fluff and no real substance for which Fox is well-known. But I'm sure the fringe fans love it, so that's all that matters (or at least that's what someone at Fox believes)

We were told that the start time of the race was moved up because of the threat of rain, so thankfully, that cut down on the pre-race show some.

As usual, the starting grid was relegated to a scrolling ticker across the bottom of the screen. Yet, FX had time to show us the points standings instead.

The Race

On lap 1, Mike Joy was telling us that Tony Stewart was going for the lead, but the cameras remained focused on the back of the pack instead.

The notorious pointers appeared on the screen as early as lap four this week. And, no, I'm never going to stop complaining about them until they are there for a real reason, not just to tout the graphics capability of the network.

Throughout the early part of the race, the announcers kept making a big deal about how tight turn 2 was at Richmond (like this was something new). I've been to a lot of races at that track since it was reconfigured and turn 2 has always been a challenge for the drivers. I think sometimes the announcers feel they have to come up with something to talk about (over and over again).

FX went to the first (of many) commercials at lap 13 and did not return to the racing action for 10 laps.

At lap 27, they showed Mike Garvey going into the pits for an unscheduled pit stop. I just wish FX could follow up on more of the teams struggling in the race, but we never heard what happened to Morgan Shepherd or others at all.

Sometime after the leader started catching the back of the pack, Mike told us that these cars must give way to the leader. This came as a big surprise to me as I understand the move over flag is for cars who have already been lapped. I think Mike was really confused because as long as I've been following racing, cars have the right to fight to stay on the lead lap. Darrell did jump in and try to clarify Mike's comment by saying that they didn't have to pull over, it was just a warning flag. That's still not how I understand things.

Mike was off on a story about the Pit Crew Championships when a pass for the lead occurred. In the early part of the season, the Fox crew really appeared to be more focused on the race, but lately I see them backsliding a bit. I understand this race didn't have a lot of action up front, however, I'd rather they saved this type of story for a time when there wasn't racing for the lead.

DW pointed out that Stewart got blocked in by Mike Wallace who was trying not to get lapped. I couldn't figure out if DW was being serious or sarcastic when he said something about how Mike was "doing what he does best" and blocking the leader.

At lap 64, FX caught the tailend of Johnny Sauter getting into the wall. What I did notice all night long was that the viewers almost never got a shot of any of the incidents in real time. Yes, there were plenty of replays, but it seemed like the director wasn't really following anyone but the leaders or top ten most of the night.

DW said he thought Sauter had a tire problem and Larry said he had a big push and that probably contributed to the tire going down. This was good information and insight.

Larry also told us that Jimmie Johnson was close to being lapped, so this was a timely caution for him. While we're talking about cars almost getting lapped, the announcers seemed to use getting a pit road penalty as the reason Earnhardt, Jr. was running so far back all night long. To me, it appeared he was running around 20th and about to be lapped most of the race. This was both before and after his pit road penalty. Why is it the announcers seem to make excuses when Earnhardt just isn't running well? When it's not your night, it's not your night.

I want to compliment Fox on getting rid of that silly four-way split they were using to cover pit stops earlier this year. I'm not sure when they got rid of it as I didn't watch the Phoenix or Talladega broadcasts, but noticed it was gone last week at Darlington. They are back to showing pit stops by the top few teams in full screen, which is great. Thanks!

After the first yellow-flag stops of this race, the FX crew was quick to report on pit road issues that involved several teams. Mike told us that Jeremy Mayfield hit Sauter's car on pit road. Dick Berggren told us that Kasey Kahne "came in hot", but was able to get into his pit stall okay. Matt Yocum reported that Greg Biffle and Ken Schrader nearly made contact on pit road.

All night long, the announcers seemed just dazzled by the fact Kahne was the first off pit road during every stop. There amazement really was just a bit over the top when you could clearly see he had the first pit and only had move a few feet to be over the line. Thankfully at the end of the race, Larry (I think) did point out that he was in the first pit stall.

Unfortunately, FX was away at commercial and missed the next restart. When they returned, they never even addressed the restart, just showed the cars back racing with general commentary from Chris Meyers and Jeff Hammond. It's like my husband suggested, perhaps TV had just decided not to bother getting back in time for restarts and we are just suppose to get used to it. Or else they think the new fans they covet so much won't even know what they are missing. Jeff pointed out Scott Wimmer had some tire smoke and speculated he had a flat right front tire.

At lap 81, the cameras caught the tailend of Johnson's initial spin. DW told us that the wreck started in front of him and was just a chain reaction. The replays confirmed this. Next, they showed that Johnson had wrecked into the inside wall while trying to get to pit road. The announcers speculated something must've broken in his steering, which Johnson later confirmed in an interview with Steve Byrnes. There were also good replays of the incident.

When FX returned from their next commercial, they showed a graphic that they used several times during the broadcast. Maybe I was just out of it, but I'm not sure why they skipped around and showed only a few cars in the top 10 in points, and then down to about 20th. This graphic showed where they were running in the race at that moment. Is FX already counting down to the Chase that doesn't even happen until September?

Mike told us that the top 23 drivers stayed out and few pitted, but FX never showed any pit stops. Larry pointed out that those people were in the back of the pack and probably needed some more adjustments.

On lap 91, there was a lead change, but FX was showing something else and never really showed how Kahne caught Stewart. They just showed him passing for the lead. I know I always complain about this, but it really is important to show what leads up to a pass, not just the pass itself. That's part of the big picture that fans like to see.

Around lap 110, FX showed a bunch of cars in one of their selective "through the field" attempts. They told us Jeff Gordon was in 14th position and Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip were running 19th and 20th and were about 15 seconds behind the leader.

When FX returned from a commercial around lap 123, Meyers told us that Johnson had retired for the night. He went on to explain that he could finish no worse than 40th so wouldn't lose the points lead even if the Biffle (who was 2nd in points) led most laps and won the race. This was interesting.

When the next caution came out, Mike told us Wimmer would get the free pass. I don't remember FX telling us every recipient of the free pass during this broadcast though.

At lap 146, the cameras had to zoom way out so FX could use the pointers to show the top three cars' speeds. Why does Fox insist on doing this? Why can't they just show a tiny graphic of the speed next to the cars and zoom IN so you can actually see the cars for yourself, instead of needing all the data on their pointers?

Sometime during this period, FX went away for an extremely long commercial break. When they came back, they showed highlights of the race before getting back to racing. When they spend so much time in commercials, why do they waste more time away from live racing by showing highlights? Oh yes, that's for the short-attention span viewers, I guess.

Around lap 157, we had a big rainstorm, so we lost the FX signal off the satellite for a bit. Thankfully, the XM signal stayed on so we could follow the race on MRN. I think it was during this time that Jeff Gordon had his problems.

Around lap 174, the TV signal was back and FX showed a replay of Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray getting together on pit road. They also gave us a close-up of the damage to the right front of Burton's car.

Around lap 181, there was a great shot of some three-wide racing in the pack. Unfortunately at lap 187, just as Kahne was catching Stewart for the lead, FX broke away for another commercial. How absurd! When they finally returned, instead of seeing live action, we again got a "race break" with highlights of the race ending with the pass for the lead while we were away. Increasingly, Fox and FX seem to be giving us nothing but highlight videos. This makes me regret wasting my time on the broadcast. I might as well just wait for an entire highlight show and watch something else while the supposed "live" coverage is on.

When they finally returned to the race, FX showed Gordon behind the wall. Matt reported that whatever was broken was not fixed and crew chief, Robbie Loomis, decided to take the car to the garage and not take any chances. At lap 208, Steve had an interview with Gordon who explained what broke on his wheel.

When FX returned from the next sequence of commercials, they showed us a taped feature called "fan of the week" which was really just another commercial for the series' sponsor. Somewhere in there, I'm sure they must've shown us some live racing, but I can't seem to remember when. Next thing I remember was yet another recap when they returned from more commercials.

The announcers told us when Gordon went back out on the track and showed Kurt Busch making an unscheduled pit stop before a restart. Steve reported that his team thought they had a lugnut jammed. Mike pointed out Busch was going to lose a lap because he was just leaving the pits as the field took restart flag. The announcers followed up saying the lugnut was stuck between the rotor and brake. Jeff demonstrated where it was wedged. He also told us that Kurt felt something vibrating and that's why he pitted. Mike said Busch could slip to 8th in points based on where he was running when he came out of the pits.

There remains a real lack of coordination when the production truck plays driver radios live. Around 129 laps to go, Mike was telling us something and they just started playing Kyle Busch's radio over it. Speaking of Kyle Busch, the announcers seemed to have a real obsession with him during the latter part of the race. I understand it was a good run for the rookie and he was the only Hendrick car running well, but they just seemed to talk about him way too much. It just seems like the time they waste talking about the same few drivers all the time, they could put to better use by covering more of the cars on the track.

At 120 laps to go, DW pointed out that when Kahne got into lapped traffic, he seemed to get bottled up and that's when the second place car would catch him and get by for the lead. This was an excellent point. With 93 laps to go, Mike also made a great observation about how Stewart timed his runs leaving turn 1, so he could get side-by-side with someone going into turn 3.

At one point, there was huge block which appeared in the middle of the screen with a video of Johnson's car in it advertising Chevrolet. I understand the car company was the sponsor of the race and broadcast, but the amount of on-screen ads like this has reached the absurd level this season. Does FX think the viewers don't notice this is just another commercial used as a seque to a commercial break? I've lost track of the numerous times each broadcast we get those stupid car graphic across the screen telling us another silly poll question and then the results of the poll later.

When FX returned from another commercial, they told us that Dave Blaney cut a tire, had to make an unscheduled pit stop, and was now two laps down. The announcers alerted us when Robby Gordon spun and brought out a caution that this would help Blaney get one of his laps back. During the replay of Gordon's spin, there were some really cool audio sounds when he got up against the wall. Mike also pointed out there were only 14 cars left on the lead lap at that time.

With 58 laps to go, the producer made good use of the split screen by showing the top two battling in one frame and another battle further back in the top ten on the other side. Unfortunately, later the producer used the right frame of a split screen to show highlights of Kahne's night so far with a live shot of him running alone in the left frame. What a waste! Wasn't there some racing somewhere on the track that they could show us instead of more highlight video? FX needed to call this broadcast "the Commercial and Highlight 400" instead of race coverage.

When Travis Kvapil spun, Mike told us that Martin, Rudd, and Robby Gordon pitted. The director started to show us their pit stops, but instead broke for another commercial. I guess they just weren't that important to FX. Neither was the restart with 43 laps to go, obviously, as FX didn't get back from that break in time to catch it. The cars were already in turn 2 by the time they returned from commercials.

With 30 laps to go, there was a good shot of several cars racing in a pack. Larry pointed out that Martin was the only one on the lead lap, but that the rest of the cars were racing for position one lap down. This was excellent and the kind of thing we should have seen earlier.

With 24 laps to go, FX was away at yet another commercial. Thankfully, MRN wasn't and I head that Hermie Sadler's car had blown up and brought out the caution. FX finally returned just as Mike Bliss got into the oil and spun out. We did get to see replays of what happened while they were away. Yippee, more replays of missed action.

Jeff pointed out that the last time teams pitted and took tires it didn't seem to help them gain any positions, so he speculated they probably wouldn't pit this time. It almost seemed like FX didn't want the viewers to realize if that would be the case or not, since FX just had to fit in more commercials. Meanwhile, MRN covered the cars who did make pit stops. They also told us that Burton had come in earlier to replace a power steering belt. We never heard anything about the pit stops on FX until after the next caution occurred. At least Mike was able to update us on who pitted then.

For those of us who actually watched the entire broadcast, we'd already heard twice that Rusty Wallace was the active driver with the most wins at Richmond. With 14 laps to go in the race, Cingular had a question about this. How absurd! Why not just break away for a commercial instead of acting like these silly poll questions add anything useful to the viewing experience? Oh, that's right, they add more money for Cingular from those not smart enough to realize they are just wasting their phone minutes voting in these senseless polls.

When the accident occurred between Robbie Gordon and Dale Jarrett, Mike told us that Kurt Busch would get the free pass and now be back on the lead lap. FX showed replays of the incident. Larry described it as "just coming together." Is that the new politically correct way that TV has of not assessing blame? I'm getting tired of this type of description when you could clearly see who hit who in this case.

In the waning laps of the race, it seemed like the announcers all were literally squealing about the finish. It's always nice to see a first-time winner, but it wasn't like Kahne had much of a challenge in the latter stages of the race. At least not enough to warrant all the excitement in the broadcast booth. It's like if there isn't a particularly close finish, the announcers try to manufacturer excitement for the fans through their comments. Personally, I'd rather they let me decide for myself and I think most other fans would too.

FX showed a "pilon" of the top ten finishers as they crossed the line and this is always great for the viewers. And this week, the information seemed to be correct, unlike last week.

FX stayed around to show the victory doughnuts by Kahne and Larry told us that a crew member got the checkered flag for him. They also showed Stewart leaning in the car and congratulating Kahne. It was nice to see these things. Unfortunately, when they got to Victory Lane, Steve had to mention 360 AGAIN to Kahne to remind us it was coming up after the race. I honestly feel sorry for the pit reporters who have to interject stuff like this into a moment that should be reserved for the winner. I can only imagine how Kahne felt being asked about it yet again.

The pit reporters interviewed the top six finishers and asked Kyle Busch what happened with McMurray near the end of the race. We were also shown a replay of the incident. Steve also talked with Kahne's car owner, Ray Evernham.

FX showed a graphic of points standings before they went off the air, but the finishing order was relegated to a ticker as has become the Fox habit. I'm sorry, I can't focus on the ticker when I'm trying to hear what the winner and the rest of the drivers say during their post-race interviews.

As I always say, I know the folks on the broadcast team are really trying to do a good job. It's just the absurd commercials required by the network, especially on an FX broadcast, just ruin their efforts. I know the announcers and pit reporters tried to give us a lot of good insight and information, but the general impression I was left with concerning this broadcast wasn't a good one. Too much of the racing action was relegated to replay or highlights because the network was always away at commercial. Because of that, I doubt I'll be watching the All Star Race live next week since it is also on FX. I'll just record it on Tivo and watch it later while I watch the USAR race instead. With the number of commercials, I should be able to watch all the action of the FX broadcast in about an hour.

This season, I won't be reviewing every single race. It's just too demanding to do a thorough job every week, and my heart's just not into NASCAR as much as it used to be. I will try to do a review at least once a month because I still feel it is important to give feedback to the networks. In the meantime, I encourage other fans to visit the Speedcouch Forum www.SpeedCouch.com/forum to review the races themselves and exchange their thoughts with other race fans. Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the race coverage.

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